The deconstruction of 'tribe' : ethnicity and politics in southwestern Ethiopia

TitleThe deconstruction of 'tribe' : ethnicity and politics in southwestern Ethiopia
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1991
AuthorsG.J. Abbink
Secondary TitleJournal of Ethiopian studies
Pagination1 - 21
Date Published1991///
PublisherInstitute of Ethiopian Studies, Haile Sellassie I University
Publication Languageeng
KeywordsEthiopia, Ethnic groups, ethnicity, fieldwork, history, policy, politics

There is, as yet, still no adequate theoretical idiom to conceptualize, in an accepted, conventional manner, the processes conditioning ethnic naming and the political-economic embeddedness of cultural complexities. The traditional primordial-mobilization dichotomy in ethnic studies, with its heuristic and descriptive advantages, remains attractive. Nonetheless, it would be advantageous for future anthropological studies of ethnic groups and relations to focus on the processes of infrastructural political-ecological conditioning of ethnic labels and their symbolic use. An explanation in terms of the psychological, affective validity of ethnicity is at most a derivative of such a process and has more to do with the individual experience rather than the collective aspects of ethnicity. The case of Maji 'awraja' (subprovince) in southwestern Ethiopia, where the author conducted fieldwork in 1988-1990, serves as illustration. The ethnonyms in use here primarily reflect a history of politico-ecological conflict between various groups of different composition and not a smooth transfer of cultural heritages within well-defined "tribes", despite a popular local image to the contrary. State discourse and policy plays a crucial role in the process. The discussion is restricted to four groups: the Dizi, the Tishana-Me'en, the Surma (or Tirma) and the Northerners (or "Amhara"). Bibliogr., notes, ref

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